Six Secrets for Parents Backed by Research

There are few tasks more challenging and important than parenting. We all want to “get it right.” Here’s a way to work with you kids, or even other people in your life, to promote a mindset of healthy growth.

1) Don’t Praise Ability Or Intelligence

When you celebrate a child’s abilities you promote a fixed mindset. They have a quality and they won’t want to “lose” it. So they’ll take fewer risks and will be more likely to quit. Here’s Carol:

A lot of our work shows focusing on the child’s ability, even complimenting the child’s ability, can make the child feel, “Oh, it’s fixed and you’re proud of me for that reason” and they may stop taking on challenges or they may see errors as serious.

What should you compliment? Their effort, strategies and choices. This tells them that elbow grease is the way to improve, and it’s not all due to one “you-have-it-or-you-don’t” innate quality.

From Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:

Remember that praising children’s intelligence or talent, tempting as it is, sends a fixed-mindset message. It makes their confidence and motivation more fragile. Instead, try to focus on the processes they used— their strategies, effort, or choices. Practice working the process praise into your interactions with your children.

So you’re praising effort, not ability. Great. But what are the mistakes people are making with growth mindset that we need to address?

2) Don’t Ignore Outcome, Tie It To Effort

A lot of people think that praising effort means you should ignore the outcome — what the kid achieved. Wrong. You can celebrate a child’s success, but attribute it to their hard work, not innate talent. Here’s Carol:

Now a lot of parents have interpreted this as meaning always praise the effort and not the outcome. That’s an oversimplification because it’s not just effort, it’s also strategies and use of resources. It’s not “ignore the outcome,” it’s “tie it to the outcome.” Sometimes parents will say, “I’m so tempted to be happy when my child succeeds or masters something difficult but I know I shouldn’t,” and of course you should. Just tie it to the process, that what the child is supposed to learn is that a good process results in progress.

But what if the kid doesn’t succeed when they try something? That’s not to be ignored, it’s actually very important…

3) Respond Positively To Failure

Another mistake people make with trying to promote a growth mindset is they think they have to gloss over or ignore when a child fails. Wrong again. This is a critical time for learning.

Showing the kid you don’t have to be perfect every time and that failure is how you learn and improve is quite valuable. Here’s Carol:

The other thing we’re seeing in our research is that the way parents respond to a child’s errors, mistakes, and failures is critically important. Many parents may have a growth mindset but they might worry that if their child experiences failure they’ll be harmed or lose their confidence and so they tend to gloss over or get a little anxious and the child picks up on that. What we’re finding is that it’s the parents who really respond positively to the child’s mistakes that show how they’re an opportunity for learning. Then the child sees that these setbacks are part of the learning process, and you can capitalize on them. They’re not something that should engender anxiety or make you feel inept.

A lot of people are good at praising effort but still aren’t really encouraging a growth mindset. Why? Just saying, “Try harder” isn’t enough…

4) Don’t Just Say “Try Hard.” Help Kids Set Goals.

Effort is what you want to praise but encouraging blind repetition doesn’t teach a child the right perspective. You need to emphasize learning, the ability to improve, trying specific strategies and setting goals. Here’s Carol:

Just seeing a growth mindset as focusing on effort and merely exhorting kids to try hard — since when was that ever effective? It’s more like nagging than instruction, so exhorting kids to work hard is not a growth mindset. It doesn’t teach them about strategies and it doesn’t teach them that their brain grows new connections when they do something hard and stick to it… In general, goals should be challenging but doable and there should be steps along the way so that the child can see that what they’re doing is bringing progress. It’s very rewarding to see yourself progressing toward the goal. Then when the child reaches the goal, the parent can review what it was that the child did, that whole process that led to the learning.

It may sound like your overall mindset is a light switch: either it’s fixed or growth. Nope. You can have different mindsets in different arenas. And that’s something that needs to be addressed…

5) Teach Growth Mindset In All Areas Of Life

Kids may have a growth mindset while playing sports (“I can learn to throw the ball better if I practice”) but not at school (“I’m just no good at math.”)

Children need to learn they can get better in almost every area of life if they work hard. Here’s Carol:

One thing to keep in mind is that if a coach teaches a growth mindset with respect to athletics it may not go anywhere else other than athletics. These mindsets can stay very anchored to a particular situation. We see many athletes who are tremendously persevering and risk taking and learning oriented in athletics but not in their academic work and vice versa. If we want our growth mindset teaching to have a maximum effect than we should tie it to other things.

What’s a good specific way to convey all this to kids on a regular basis so they apply it?

6) Talk To Your Kids About Your Own Growth Mindset Efforts

Telling your kids how you personally faced challenges and then overcame them by effort (not by innate talent or intelligence) is a good way to discuss the subject in an organic way. (And it also makes sure you’re using a growth mindset regularly yourself.) Here’s Carol:

We should ask ourselves every day “What do I want to learn today?” and “What do I want to teach today?”, or “What do I want to facilitate in others?” That just keeps us in a learning mode. We’re all so busy, we have so many responsibilities and we have to keep learning the idea of learning in the front of our minds. Then, even at the dinner table, parents can talk about things they struggled with, mistakes they made and learned from and that could become part of the dinner conversation.

And when you tell kids any story think about the underlying message it’s sending: is it growth or fixed?

From Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:

Every word and action from parent to child sends a message. Tomorrow, listen to what you say to your kids and tune in to the messages you’re sending. Are they messages that say: “You have permanent traits and I’m judging them?” Or are they messages that say “You’re a developing person and I’m interested in your development?”

Sum Up

  • Don’t Praise Ability Or Intelligence: That promotes a fixed mindset. Compliment effort, process and choices.
  • Don’t Ignore Outcome, Tie It To Effort: You can be happy when your kid succeeds, but attribute it to effort.
  • Respond Positively To Failure: They need to know that failure isn’t bad, it’s a tool for improving.
  • Don’t Just Say “Try Hard.” Help Kids Set Goals: Blind repetition doesn’t work. Help kids strategize.
  • Teach Growth Mindset In All Areas Of Life: There’s no area where they cannot improve with hard work.
  • Talk To Your Kids About Your Own Growth Mindset Efforts: Practice it yourself and share your results.


References

  • Carol Dweck Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
  • Eric Barker from Barking Up the Wrong Tree weekly blog